Large scale global change and direct human pressures on the natural environment are leading to extensive biodiversity loss and major societal impacts. There are pressing challenges in minimising extinction and promoting the maintenance and restoration of biodiverse and resilient ecosystems.
Almost all of our research underpins conservation action in some way, but a particular focus is the translation of policy-relevant science into conservation practice. We evaluate and then prioritise the species, ecosystems and regions that are most under threat, develop management solutions, implement recovery and restoration programmes, and build capacity for ongoing sustainability in-country.
Read our Strategies for responding to the Biodiversity Crisis and Climate Emergency
Evaluating threats to species
- We chair the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conifer Specialist Group, and we play a major role in the compilation of the Red List as well as ongoing global reassessments for conifers.
- We routinely incorporate conservation assessments into our taxonomic and floristic outputs.
- We are a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)/Species Survival Commision (SSC) Global Tree specialist group for Sapotaceae.
Identification of sites for conservation and targeted action
We input into local, national and regional conservation planning in some of the most threatened and least explored ecosystems on earth, including (among others) the Arabian Peninsula, the dry forests of Latin America, New Caledonia, and Sarawak.
- In the Arabian Peninsula, we lead the identification of Important Plant Areas. We closely work with national governments and contribute data and advice for conservation planning. We undertook a major review of Iraq’s Ministry of Environment 10 year National Key Biodiversity Areas program, and we developed the proposed Saudi Arabian National Biodiversity Assessment (SANBA). Our work was critical in the designation of the Yemeni island of Socotra as a World Heritage Site, and the planning of major protected areas within the region.
- The dry forests of Latin America are rapidly disappearing due to large-scale conversion to agriculture. Our work has quantified the high levels of endemism and evolutionary uniqueness of these forests, and has been fundamental in the identification of conservation sites and plans.
- New Caledonia is a global biodiversity hotspot, but faces massive environmental destruction due to nickel mining and fire. Analysis of distributional data of nearly 3K plant species led to the production of a ‘rarity hotspot map’ of the New Caledonian flora.
- We are part of the RIMBA Sarawak (Research for the Intensified Management of Bio-rich Areas in Sarawak) intiiative to document the rich plant diversity in wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and nature reserves of Sarawak. The data gathered will facilitate the formulation of evidence based sustainable management plans and help build and enhance capabilities and skills in research and conservation management.
Conservation science to inform policy and management
- We have developed models to assess risks to biodiversity and livelihoods from the expansion of rubber plantations into novel environments, focusing on Southeast Asia.
- Tanzania’s forests are threatened by rapidly rising demand for wood for construction, fuel and unregulated raw timber exports. We model the spread of logging in these forests and quantify associated losses of biodiversity, carbon and revenues.
- In Scotland we have developed a web-based scenarios toolkit to explore options for woodland biodiversity management, offsetting the risks of climate change and tree disease. This is now being trialled by SNH at their flagship Glen Creran NNR, to help conserve Scotland’s internationally important temperate rainforest.
- We have developed biological indicators for Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme and the UK’s Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee.
- Our plant heath programme aims to develop strategies to minimise impacts from emerging pests and pathogens, and we play a lead role in the Scottish Centre of Expertise in Plant Health.
Preserving and restoring biodiversity
- In Scotland we have active translocation programmes on bryophytes and lichens, and threatened species such as the alpine sow-thistle (Cicerbita alpina). All our programmes are accompanied by detailed long-term monitoring and stringent plant-health procedures.
- We have translated our experiences in translocation programmes into national and international guidelines, including the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.
- We have collected and successfully cultivated 156 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation's 181 Scottish Target 8 species (86% compared to the recommended 75%), and we keep detailed records of the their ideal cultivation protocols, supporting their future conservation and potential reintroduction.
- The International Conifer Conservation Programme has established a network of conifer safe sites. These 170 sites span the entire British Isles and contain 13,000 plants representing more than 150 threatened conifers. They form one of the globally most comprehensive ex-situ conservation networks for threatened woody plants.
RBGE: World Leader in Science
- Read video transcript
Time Description [Narrator] The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a global leader in botanical science and an international centre of education. The knowledge gained here over centuries has the world turning to it on climate change and biodiversity loss. [Peter Hollingsworth, Director of Science] The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a beautiful place with a world class collection of plants. Science and conservation are right at the heart of what we do. And this work is critically important for addressing the challenges that the world is facing. [Narrator] Global food security is one challenge that science here addresses, the garden grows wild crop relatives of the potato, and applies modern sequencing to study specimens of the Solanaceae plant family. By doing so it is protecting crops of global economic value. [Tiina Särkinen, Biodiversity Scientist] What we provide is an infrastructure of taxonomic knowledge. We understand the wild species. We map them, we characterise them. We describe them and these wild species and their genes, their genetic pathways can then be bred into potato or tomato or eggplants or any other crop across the world. And they are a major source, these wild species for pathogen resistance, such as late blight. [Peter Baxter, Curator Benmore Botanic Garden] (in conversation) This site now, it's of international significance, one of the reasons why... [Narrator] Planting on steep hillsides and in Scotland's ideal climate conditions, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is conserving the Chilean Monkey Puzzle at it's Benmore Botanic Garden [Peter Baxter] And many years in, we've now got the eight different conifer species growing out of the nine that actually grow in Chile. [Narrator] This ex situ conservation keeps species of Monkey Puzzle that may be under threat in the wild, safe in Scotland. Should anything catastrophic happen to the iconic forests of Chile [Martin Gardner, International Conifer Conservation Programme] The important thing about this is the international flavour, that we wouldn't have been able to do this without international collaboration and with excellent partners in Chile. [Narrator] And to the future of Latin America's dry forest. The rare genus Sabre is found in many countries of the continent, but it's isolation is the focus in Edinburgh. [Flavia Pezzini, Tropical Botanist] There are 18 species in this genus. There is a small genus of Malvaceae family, a botanical family. And the interesting thing is that these species, they are spread all across from Mexico to Argentina, but in small patches of destroyed forest between the mountains in the Andes. So it's very important that we conserve each one of these patches because they are unique. [Narrator] And then to the herbarium where the evolutionary history of each of the species will be revealed. [Flavia Pezzini] Using a little bit of the leaf that I can find here in this little envelope I could sequence and extract the DNA. And it's helping me understand if this is one species, if this is another species or only one species. So this network that the Botanics is leading is helping us provide this bigger picture that is helping the nations to target the conservation of their dry forests. [Narrator] The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has been a centre of botany for centuries, a unique living collection of the world's plants. The herbarium, a rich history, innovative DNA sequencing in the laboratories, a world leading institute training botanists to play a part in the global development of science.